You know the typical portrayal of The Empire? Militaristic, totalitarian, imperialist, all-powerful and massively dysfunctional. The sort of empire where Big Brother Is Watching and ruling his occupied provinces with an iron fist, blatantly eradicating all sorts of dissent through mass executions, concentration camps, indiscriminate incarcerations, and indefinite detentions. Well, this is not that Empire. This Empire works a bit differently.
"Hegemony" is an indirect form of imperial dominance where the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. A Hegemonic Empire doesn't need to rule through its military. It doesn't need to remove and rewrite facts. It has no need to believe a contradiction or destroy the vocabulary. At the same time, it can do all of these, sometimes a bit more subtly. A Hegemonic Empire dominates through attraction, absorption, enthrallment and sometimes Bread and Circuses. Only towards its "enemies" does it utilize coercion, extortion and indoctrination. Common subordinate nations include protectorates, colonies, supported dictatorships, mini-states (designed to reflect their interests as a supposedly independent nation), occupied territories (where they'll force the natives to basically leach off their invaders' resources to survive), satellite states and puppet governments. Often, these loosely-united empires may function as a form of Multiple Government Polity, as the territories acquired in this manner often retain their previously-held legal traditions and forms of government.
A Hegemonic Empire maintains control by making other people want to be part of it, typically by Rule of Cool and being the lesser of two evils. Therefore, it justifies all of its potential infringements in civil liberties or human rights as Necessarily Evil.
In more extreme cases, their cultural beliefs, values and perceptions will influence, manipulate and dominate the societies of a large number of states that might be "officially" beyond their reach on paper. Imposed as the societal norm, their culture is perceived as a universally valid ideology and status quo beneficial to all of society, symbolized by their language being one of the most commonly spoken in The Verse. A Hegemonic Empire isn't necessarily a People's Republic of Tyranny, but it could well be a rejuvenated empire, revived from a Vestigial Empire, The Remnant or even Peace & Love Incorporated, and essentially remaining the same as ever, just more subtle in its imperialism.
Whenever the Hegemonic Empire faces a situation where they have to get more hands-on (like the occupied territories), it's not just that the smaller countries are dealing with a Superpower in a direct, country to country struggle; the Superpower meddles in their affairs, corrupts and barters and plays with them, and just flat-out won't let them run themselves. The bureaucratic administration of a Hegemonic Empire can vary; it may be The Republic, The Federation, The Good Kingdom or even The Alliance.
Although a Hegemonic Empire practices soft-power methods, it never means that the empire cannot be evil, corrupt, or at the very least A Lighter Shade of Grey, nor does it mean that the empire is incapable of wielding hard power when provoked.
The concept of a Cultural or Diplomatic Victory in 4X games is often intended to represent this. Economic Victories are also a variant of this — you might not dominate culturally, but your economy is so strong and influential that anyone trying to attack you would find their economy crippled and their industries failing.
Also counts as a Meaningful Name — hegemony is Greek for "leadership/rule". Compare Voluntary Vassal, a province that joins a traditional conquering empire of its own accord (which is standard procedure for a hegemonic one).
- Crest of the Stars:
- The Humankind Empire Abh practices a different type of hegemonic influence - diplomacy. The Abh expand by military conquest, but this "conquest" will often consist of a single ship delivering a treaty of surrender, with no shots fired. The Abh then order the conquered world to surrender all long - range space travel capabilities to the empire, install an Abh noble to rule over the planet (who is sometimes chosen from the local population rather than imported), set up trade routes, and then as long as the ruling class follow the rules and the people don't cause too much trouble, leaves things alone except for an occasional military recruiter or observer.
- The Familiar of Zero: Romalia also utilizes a different sort of hegemony over Halkegenia, a continent that consists of five independent nations (Albion, Gallia, Germania, Romalia, and Tristain). Romalia is relatively weak militarily, and it often remains neutral (such as when Albion declared war on Tristain), but the Romalian Emperor, by exerting control over the church, can nonetheless override the other rulers' decisions.
- Kuromukuro: Efidolg is a multiracial, overarching interstellar empire that uses coercion, Mind Control, and cloning to control the planets it conquers. There are no single species that can be called "Efidolg", rather it uses all the races it controls in its ranks, with some twisted chivalry and something akin Klingon Promotion being hinted as a social advancement mechanism. However, due to the expendable nature of the invading clone armies (they're all executed after a successful mission), it's implied that the automated fleet is an unstable swarm that swears loyalty and delivers resources to the Efidolg home planet but cannot be directly controlled or ruled by anyone.
- One Piece: The World Government works this way. Joining it is generally voluntary, with any country that is unwilling or too poor to pay the Heavenly Tribute tax/membership fee being free to be independent... Which puts them outside of the Marines' jurisdiction. Almost all unaligned countries are unaligned because they are too poor to pay the tribute and tend to become hotbeds of piracy and human trafficking without the protection membership bestows. Less well off member states fear being unable to pay the tribute and consequently being brought to ruin, and at least one country is known to have suffered a famine to pay it and another one had to transform its army into a mercenary group to generate enough profit to pay the tribute. Of course, the World Government is by no means above subjugating independent countries. As of Chapter 1028, the World Government prepared to annex Wano in the event its current overlord, Kaido, is defeated. When that came to pass, the attempt ultimately failed thanks to the combined effort of the Straw Hats and Wano's own forces. Time will tell if the organization tries again.
- Star Wars Legends: When Jagged Fel becomes Emperor of the Imperial Remnants, he launches the "Victory Without War" campaign expanding through an "Imperial Mission" that provides aid to planets ruined by the most recent galactic war. It continues until his grandson's reign when the Sith pull a coup. It then resumes when his great-granddaughter restores the Empire, before they reorganize into The Federation.
- X-Men: The Shi'ar Empire is said to expand through "shotgun weddings", using the threat of force to turn others into allies rather than actual force to subjugate them.
- Child of the Storm: Asgard is this in respect to the Nine Realms, albeit with a light touch since they don't actually want or need anything from the rest of the universe. As a result, they only really get involved if someone's mucking around with one of the other Realms, or one of the other Realms is mucking around with another (Jotunheim screwing with Earth led to the Asgard-Frost Giant Wars), with a general policy best summed of 'don't make us come down there (because we can kick the crap out of you and you know it)'. This attitude hasn't been entirely consistent over time, with some periods, like Bor's rule, where Asgard largely ignored various realms, and others hinted at when it ruled a much more conventional (and huge) empire. Under Odin, however, Asgard tends to keep a gimlet eye on the affairs of the Nine Realms and make a statement where required. This is pretty much the only reason that the likes of the Kree, the Skrulls, the Shi'ar and other would-be powers have left Earth alone.
- Evangelion 303: This is how Seele sees the USA: an unrestrained imperial war machine and an overbearing international police organization that rules over the world like the only and unchallenged superpower. The Black Project Evangelion is started to prevent its plan to finish with what they call "the American Empire" once and for all.
- King of Kings, Ruling over Rulers: The magical Roman Empire is one of these, possessing sovereignty over the vast majority of the wizarding world, excluding the small quantity of territories that are controlled by the International Confederation of Wizards.
- Nobledark Imperium: Unlike its canon self, which typically expands through military subjugation of human nations and extermination of alien ones, the Imperium prefers to expand through diplomacy. First contact with new polities is typically followed by attempts to establish diplomatic relationships, with the intent of drawing the new group fully into the Imperial fold. This is typically achieved through a combination of perks from doing so, such as access to the Imperium's immense industrial base, its trade networks and the protection of its armies, contrasted with the danger of trying to survive in the darkness of the far future alone. Even so, the Imperium doesn't really press reluctant nations to join, mainly because it's been around for a very long time and is willing to play the long game, and gives joining states a great degree of autonomy, provided that they pay its tithes and don't try to leave.
- RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: This has been Equestria's modus operandi for several centuries. After she'd secured what she felt she needed in the way of resources, defensive borders, etcetera, Princess Luna switched to extending power via her exarchies. These are a number of realms (currently there are six) that owe fealty to Luna in some way or other but are otherwise self-governing, providing Equestria with strategic depth and additional ponypower and resources without the need to actually go to the trouble of running these regions. In Crisis on Two Equestrias, this is contrasted to canon Celestia's approach, who instead focuses on bringing all pony nations and cultures under a single unified government. Even then, this Equestria expands fairly peaceably; Celestia's usual approach is to gradually build up good relationships with independent pony nations and keep things that way until such a time as they wish to formally integrate into Equestria, usually as a result of asking her to step in to resolve some major crisis.
- An Empire of Ice and Fire: Jon and Daenerys eventually declare the formation of the Targaryen Empire, which lays claim to all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the city-states of Slaver's Bay (which is renamed New Valyria), and the Dothraki Sea. The semi-autonomy of these constituent kingdoms is duly noted and recognized by the new Imperial couple. During the epilogue, they also add the True North (as the Free Folk reclaim their lands, while pledging loyalty) as a full territory, while also using a mix of negotiation and threats (when necessary) to turn the Free Cities and Naath into client states/protectorates.
- Andromeda: The Vedran Empire was the more traditional type until non-Vedran species began to vastly outnumber the founders and it evolved into the Systems Commonwealth. When it contacted humanity thousands of years after becoming a constitutional monarchy, we joined voluntarily.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Eddington accuses the Federation of being this, even going so far as to compare them to the Borg.
- Star Trek: Discovery: This a major concern of T'Kuvma's. He fears that peaceful coexistence with the Federation will lead to the eradication of the Klingons' warrior culture, and starts a war to unify the rest of his race against this threat.
- The Dominion is a more sinister take on this; to start with, the Founders are very restrictive and totalitarian, and genetically engineer client species to roles in society (also brainwashing them into considering the Founders gods). They use the Vorta as the "carrot", diplomats who promise untold riches and prosperity to races who join the Dominion willingly. If that doesn't work, they send in the Jem'Hadar to force them to join or die.
- The Klingon Empire seems to operate this way, especially in the TNG era. Personal freedoms are fairly pervasive and military conquest was rare, and overall Klingons default to problematic allies. This briefly changes during the latter half of Gowron's reign, but appears to be back on track by the end of Deep Space 9.
- Arguably The Federation is that they are also this.
- In "A Piece of the Action" Kirk portrays the Federation as one to the Iotians, if only because they cannot conceive of any form of government other than organized crime based on 1920s Chicago. After stunning all the other bosses from orbit Kirk puts the two bosses who cooperated with him in charge of the planet and demands a cut of their take for the Federation (to reinvest in planetary development) and warns them that if they don't keep the peace there might be another "intervention." Very much like the Romans.
- Anima: Beyond Fantasy: The Empire of Abel is fueled by this trope, especially before it broke up, letting each nation (which were all those human in the world of Gaïa) under its control to have its own governments, etc.
- Battletech: The Terran Hegemony turned into this when it peacefully integrated the Inner Sphere, making all the Great Houses part of a united political entity and founding the Star League with the Hegemony's leader its "first among equals". Subverted when the Star League tried to extend their hegemony to the major Periphery realms and the Periphery realms refused, as the League replied with a war of conquest that lasted twenty years and all but razed the Periphery states to the ground. This war would eventually sow the seeds of the Star League's destruction, as the heir of one of the forcefully subdued Periphery nations eventually caused the League's destruction two century later when he murdered all remaining members of the Hegemony's ruling family in a coup and started a 14 year civil war.
- Exalted: The Realm technically only consists of the Blessed Isle. The rest of its domains are either colonies or client states which have their own governments, laws and cultures but have to pay tribute to the Realm, recognise the Immaculate Faith as the only true religion, and keep a Dragon-Blooded satrap as "advisor" to the official ruler.
- GURPS features an example character from an alternate world whose backstory briefly mentions a hegemony founded by Alexander the Great.
- Lancer: Union was founded as an idealistic attempt to aid humanity's lost colonies after Cradle rebuilt themselves, but then hardline anthrochauvinist elements took over and formed the fascistic Second Committee. The current Third Committee is trying to toe the line between remaining hands-off in the governance of the Diaspora colonies and sending in mechs to clean up SecComm's lingering messes.
- Mindjammer: The New Commonality of Humankind incorporates the scattered Lost Colonies through a variety of means. Some few worlds are all too happy to join when recontacted, but most resist assimilation in some way. They emplace Mindscape instances enabling access to the Commonality's collective memory, send SCI Force teams to destabilize hostile governments, allow Corporacies to establish branches on world, eventually the planet either joins the Commonality or declares war and gets curbstomped.
- Pathfinder: In the present setting, the Padishah Empire of Kelesh is in a period of seeing this as an ideal, focusing on commerce, clandestine intelligence activities and portraying Keleshites in a benevolent light. Even during their more militaristic expansionary periods (which some groups in the Empire wish to return to, including the most showcased region of the empire, the satrapy of Qadira — mostly because Qadira wants another go at their arch-enemy of Taldor) some elements of this was present, with the Empire being flexible about incorporating cultures and traditions, and fond of establishing autonomous satrapies.
- The Third Imperium is halfway between one of these and The Empire. It doesn't care much how member planets run things and only gets involved when interstellar trade is disrupted.
- The Sylean Federation as well, which provided the resources for it to be evolved into the Third Imperium under Emperor Cleon I.
- The First Imperium initially expanded through economic domination, but the Second was a straight-up military conquest.
- The Hiver Federation acts like this towards minor races, manipulating them towards space travel and then joining them.
- Warhammer 40,000: While the Tau Empire is more than willing to use overt military force when necessary, its preferred method of expansion is a diplomatic one. Prospective planets and starfaring races are courted extensively, sometimes over several generations, and the Empire works very carefully to set up as positive an image of itself as it can by establishing trade and introducing useful technology, providing medicine, and volunteering the services of its skilled diplomats and city planners to the new world's rulers, until the prospective gain is ready to join of its own accord. Worlds and races confederated in this way are often granted a great deal of internal autonomy, albeit still under the ultimate authority of the Ethereal Council, while others are integrated into Tau society more directly. This process accounts of a significant majority of the human worlds gained by the Tau Empire, which are mostly nibbled away in this manner while the Imperium is distracted with other matters.
- Warhammer Fantasy:
- The Empire is ruled by a genuinely benevolent Emperor. While there are times when bandits and rebellious lords have to get put down, the armies generally spend their time protecting the Empire from invasion by external forces. Life there is far from nice, but it beats the Hell out of everywhere else in the setting, as you can generally find some sort of job, a place to live, and something vaguely resembling food, and its member provinces and free cities run themselves fairly autonomously — the central Imperial government primarily oversees inter-province disputes, foreign relationships and the military. It's basically a fantasy version of the Holy Roman Empire.
- The Karaz Ankor has shades of this as well, with each Dwarfhold having its own King, its own Book of Grudges, and generally conducting and minding its own business, but all of them theoretically answer to the High King of Karaz-a-Karak via a complex system of I Gave My Word. Of course, the idea of breaking their oaths to the High King is so antithetical to Dwarfen culture that they might as well be a single unified empire.
- City of Heroes Gives us a Hegemonic Empire to a T with the main villain group - Arachnos. Arachnos are the government of the The Rogue Isles. Arachnos are openly evil, out to conquer the world, have all manner of mutants, psychic, battle-magi and cyborgs, and ruled over by the King of all evil; They are however also, fiercely protective of their unarmed tax-paying citizens, practiced negotiators, generally always honor their deals until someone else breaks them, and completely hands off as long as no one crosses them or their tax-payers. Indeed evil thrives in their country largely because they have made it a Dariwian Utopia by design. The citizens are actually fiercely protective of said evil government because all of said villainous government's rivals are much more casual with things like civilian causalities.
- Civilization VI: In a cultural victory, your culture is so influential that every other nation has more people visiting yours than vacationing domestically. In a religious one, your nation contains the holy city of a religion that dominates every other nation on the planet. Either way, your rivals cannot move against you without a massive backlash from their citizens, handing you the victory.
- Dragon Age: In Thedas, Orlais fills the power vacuum that the collapsing Tevinter Imperium left, and it can and will expand through military conquest, but most of its power is derived from its advanced and sophisticated culture, its prosperous economy, the fact that the dominant religion, the Andrastian Chantry, is based in the Imperial capital of Val Royeaux, and the immense, Machiavellian schemes of its nobles and diplomats. It's a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of France during the Ancien Regime, specifically the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, with more than a little influence from the Holy Roman Empire, the two biggest hegemonic empires for much of European history.
- Destiny: The Cabal empire used to be this, according to its emperor-in-exile Calus. It was originally a more conventional militaristic empire, but then Calus overthrew its stratocracy, crowned himself emperor, and (supposedly) ushered in a golden age. His policies included expansion by encouraging disparate cultures to mingle into a single smooth blend, using the military as a deterrent rather than a tool of conquest, and a life of abject hedonism for every citizen. Then Calus was overthrown in turn by his protégé Ghaul, who turned it back into a militaristic empire. Later seasons indicate that Calus was being honest here, but also makes it clear that all of this kindness and generosity was just to make everyone shower home with adulation - there was a reason his own daughter helped Ghaul depose him.
- The Elder Scrolls: The Third Cyrodiilic Empire (ruled by the Septim dynasty) is one of these. While initially forged by the iron fists of the Imperial Legions (with an assist from the Dwemer-crafted Numidium) under the leadership of Tiber Septim, it quickly shifted to a (mostly) benevolent force of good, espousing generally liberal values like religious and racial tolerance while establishing strong diplomatic and mercantile ties between the provinces. Throughout the first four games in the main series, the Septim empire is in dire straights facing numerous threats (both internal and external, supernatural and mundane) and is only held together through the massive schemes of Emperor Uriel Septim VII. By the time of Skyrim, it has completely descended into a Vestigial Empire status, with the few remaining provinces in a very fragile state.
- Fallout: The New California Republic is a borderline case. They can and have annexed regions by military force, but they prefer to expand through peaceful settlement and through inviting existing frontier settlements to join them. Unfortunately, their democracy and bureaucracy has become burdened and riven by corruption, which have left peacefully-annexed regions bloated with corruption from robber barons. By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, it is engaged in a three-way (four-way if you go down the Wild Card path) power struggle over control of New Vegas, a very advanced, prosperous, and independent settlement.
- Mass Effect: The Asari Republics are the cultural and economic superpower in the galaxy, they are the founders and most powerful member of the Citadel Council, their extremely long lives means they are quite willing to be patient and wait for their culture to become omnipresent on its own rather than force the issue, and the codex explicitly compares their early governments to ancient Mediterranean city-states.
- Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom: Evan's Kingdom of Evermore operates "unites the world" by asking other countries to sign the "Declaration of Interdependence" willingly.
- Paradox Interactive titles often include mechanics for expanding through peaceful vassalization and annexation.
- Stellaris has three different types of "subject empire", and players can also form The Federation with other empires, or be opposed by them. The "Federations" DLC specifically adds Hegemony as a variant Federation dominated by one founding member.
- Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun has the "sphere of influence" mechanic, where countries are integrated into the domestic market and are more willing to accept (or in fact unable to refuse) diplomatic offers, while still nominally sovereign. In exchange, you have to protect them from rebellion and outside aggression. Decisions to unify a region into a larger country (such as Germany, Italy or Scandinavia) also had maintaining a sphere of influence over the other countries to be united as a potentially more peaceful alternative for being available to conquest or establishing puppet regimes.
- Sword of the Stars 2: The Morrigi see themselves as self-appointed protectors of the "younger races", as such their Confederation incorporates many more species than most of the other factions and players of any faction can annex minor races peacefully.
- Tears to Tiara 2: The Empire was originally one a long time ago. But especially since it changed its name to The Holy Empire it has become The Empire. After Hamil and the Canaanites rebel and forms The Alliance to take on The Holy Empire, he wants to recreate the old Hegemonic Empire centered around Hispania.
- Total War: Attila: The Sassanid Empire functions this way. Its mechanics encourage the creation and maintenance of independent Puppet States called satrapies instead of conquering and annexing territories directly. The more satrapies the Sassanids get, the more powerful your smaller core regions get, as your satraps come to your limited aid in war and provide bonuses in return for you not controlling them directly. This model is similar to the methods used by the real-life (Sassanid) Persian Empire at the time (see Real Life below).
- Girl Genius: Baron Wulfenbach's empire acts a lot like this. Being a part of the Wulfenbach empire means agreeing to the Pax Transylvania (summarized neatly in it's motto of "Don't Make Me Come Over There"), which means "no wars", "no going Mad Scientist on your subjects (in a way that will permanently harm them)", "no discrimination against constructs" and "turn over all piece of Other technology you find", and beyond that any town, city or domain in the empire is ruled independently. Some level of taxation also seems to be involved, but on the other hand the Baron also builds public projects in return.
- An Examination of Extra-Universal Systems of Government: The Universal Empire is the end result of Temujin/Genghis Khan's conquests spreading to include most of Eurasia and parts of Africa. In order to keep this domain intact and stable after his death, Temujin established a system wherein each conquered territory is a constituent nation within the empire, led by its own elected Khan, who are subordinate to a Great Khan who serves for life and is chosen from among their number by the Imperial Court, a legislative body of representatives elected from the constituent nations. Also, aside from some overarching laws (such as taxes and religious freedom), each constituent is allowed total autonomy within their territories.
- Orion's Arm: Most of the Archailects that rule the Sephirotic Empires prefer to expand by memetic engineering than by messier forms of warfare. The Solar Dominion is one of the more notable, being an Empire ruled by a God-Emperor that has stood for over 8,000 years with its celebration of personal identity and potential.
- Para Imperium: The setting's name stems from the fact that the Federation of Parahuman Species is more of a Hereditary Republic that built an empire through control of interstellar travel and communications, and immortality-inducing nanotechnology.